What Will Happen When The U.S. Leaves Afghanistan?

On 13 April 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the United States would end its military presence in Afghanistan by 11 September 2021. This decision is following the nearly twenty years the U.S. has been at war against the Islamic fundamentalist group, the Taliban. With the extended length of the war, President Biden wishes to remove American troops in an effort to end one of America’s “forever wars.” However, many fear that when the U.S. leaves, it could result in the destabilization of Afghanistan and lead to further violence.

The conflict in Afghanistan dates back to December 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded the country and sparked a 10 year-long war. During which, the U.S. supported the Mujahideen fighters – the Islamic guerrilla fighters that fought against the Soviets – many of whom would move on to establish the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups. Following this, Afghanistan was consumed by its own civil war until 1996, with the Taliban ultimately assuming power and establishing a strict form of Sharia law with many policies that violated human rights.

Following the attacks on 11 September 2001, the Taliban aided and protected the leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, which encouraged the U.S. to invade Afghanistan to capture him and other leaders of Al-Qaeda. In October 2001, the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) began strikes on Afghanistan and had removed the Taliban from power later that year, forcing it to retreat to Pakistan. By 2002, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan replaced the Taliban as a more tolerant government, undoing many extreme policies. In the years since the U.S. invasion, hundreds of thousands of civilians have died and millions more have been displaced. Since President Biden’s announcement, the Taliban has begun a new offensive in Afghanistan and is likely to regain control of the country upon the departure of the U.S.

The Taliban has a long history of brutalizing its subjects in the name of Islam and Sharia law. Those who do not comply with requirements are punished, often with beatings. Furthermore, journalists who are critical of Taliban policies are subject to violence and intimidation, and local media is often censored or restricted. Recent concerns include the Taliban’s targeting of translators for U.S. military forces. Despite The White House stating that translators will receive U.S. Visas, it has been slow to deliver on this commitment and increasingly any group that has worked in opposition to Taliban policies is in danger of being targeted.

One of the strongest examples of cruelty from the Taliban is its treatment of women who have been barred from attending school beyond the sixth grade or becoming employed outside the home all in the name of Islam, although such rules go against the writings in the Quran. Additionally, when women have come forward to report cases of domestic violence to the Taliban courts, the Taliban will “pressure the parties to resolve such disputes at home.” Often, this results in no legal resolution, nor punishment for the abuser, and forces the victim to continue living in these abusive circumstances.

While the Taliban is not known for changing its policies, it must evolve to maintain peace. Additionally, the Taliban offensive against the current Afghan government could spark another civil war where without the support of the U.S., the Afghan government may collapse. Therefore, peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban must commence. Furthermore, the U.S. also has a role to play in preventing further devastating conflict as seen over the past 20 years. This starts with recognizing the significant risks and consequences of intervening in foreign affairs to establish its own political and economic structures abroad which are visible in Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan as part of the U.S. global ‘war on terror.’

While it is encouraging that President Biden has stated the U.S. will promote a culture of peace and diplomacy in international affairs, its past use of military force has proven costly in regional conflicts. Policies surrounding the U.S. political agenda must be changed or more countries could find themselves in situations like Afghanistan’s whereby significant military presence and occupation in faraway nation-states isn’t the path to peace.